Israel's Defense Ministry approved the expansion of building material imports into the Gaza Strip Sunday, following demands by the international community.
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Defense Minister Moshe Ya'alon approved a recommendation made by Maj. Gen. Eitan Dangot, coordinator of government activities in the territories, to transfer some 1,000 tons of cement and other construction materials needed to repair buildings that were damaged by last month's snow storm, as well as for projects under various UN agencies working in Gaza, the ministry said in a statement.
Sunday's approval was the final step in a move to ease imports into Gaza. The move was announced in December, and is expected to help alleviate Gaza's economic woes.
Israel imposes restrictions on the imports of construction materials into Gaza on the grounds that they may also be used to build fortifications and outposts for Hamas' security forces. The dire shortage of building materials in Gaza – accompanied by tough restrictions imposed by Egypt – has brought unemployment in Gaza to unprecedented levels.
Israel eased the blockade on Gaza a few months ago, but again imposed a ban on building materials after the discovery in October of a 2.5 kilometer (1.4 mile) underground tunnel near Kibbutz Ein Hashlosha, leading from Gaza into Israel. Hamas claimed responsibility for digging the tunnel.
Israeli security forces said they believe Palestinian militants were planning to use the tunnel to enter Israel and attack soldiers or civilians.